Messi is Argentina's only hope as they stumble past Swiss
Many people's tip for the tournament look ordinary against well-organised Switzerland
Argentina 1 Switzerland 0. A goal from Angel Di Maria in the dying minutes of extra-time saved Argentina the agony of penalties in their last 16 clash with Switzerland. He was set up, inevitably, by Lionel Messi and until that moment Argentina had struggled to break down an organised and disciplined Swiss side.
It was a sobering match for the South Americans, who either went into the encounter with a touch of complacency or revealed to the world that they are not just as good as they claim to be – with the exception of Messi.
The Barcelona striker didn't add to the four goals he's already scored in the tournament, but it was his surge upfield after 118 minutes that sowed fear in the minds of the tired Swiss defenders. Backing off, they allowed Messi the chance to pick out Di Maria on his right and his perfectly weighted pass was side-footed past Diego Benaglio into the Swiss net.
It was a sweet goal but a bitter way for the Swiss to depart after their gutsy effort in containing the strong favourites. Argentina's reward is a quarter-final clash on Saturday with Belgium, 2-1 winners against the USA in another game that went into extra-time.
"I was nervous towards the end because we couldn't score and any mistake could have knocked us out," admitted Messi. "The minutes were passing and we didn't want the match to go to penalties. We were suffering but had a special play. I passed to Angel and now we can celebrate."
Though Swiss defender Blerim Dzemaili hit the Argentina post with a header soon after they fell behind and with seconds left on the clock, they didn't manage a single shot on target in the last hour of the tie whereas the Argentines peppered their opponents' goal with 29 shots over the two hours.
Di Maria said that statistic alone proved that Argentina "more than deserved" the victory, adding: "It wasn't me, the heroes are 23 players and the technical staff. We gave our lives, our souls."
He was right in one respect. He was a long way from being a hero before he scored, after suffering a wretched game, in which he gave possession away on more than 50 occasions and completed 63 per cent of his passes.
But Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella echoed the sentiments of Di Maria, claiming "it was a game that we deserved to win in 90 minutes", although privately he'll be concerned that his side are gaining a reputation as a one-man team – as Argentina did in 1986 when they relied on the brilliance of Diego Maradona in winning the World Cup.
Switzerland blunted Messi for most of the match by detailing both Gokhan Inler and Valon Behrami to mark him, but the Europeans just didn't have the firepower up front to score themselves.
Belgium do have the marksmen to score, however, and they'll have taken note of Switzerland's tactics.
The defeat marks the end of Swiss coach Ottmar Hitzfeld's 31-year coaching career with the German, who won 19 major club trophies for Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Grasshoppers, heading into retirement. "I have a quiet life in front of me," he said. "My job as a coach has finished here... It has been a great honour and I am proud to say goodbye to the Swiss team with my heart full of emotions." ·